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Q & A

Answers to commonly asked questions from the experts on Thumbtack.

Who is a carpenter and what do they do?

Carpenters are skilled craftsmen who build things out of wood. Depending on what the carpenter builds, they may be referred to by various names. A framer is a carpenter who puts up the framing on a house. A trim or finish carpenter installs the finishing touches of prefabricated or custom trim and detail work once a house has been built and the walls are up. A furniture maker or woodworker builds furniture — such as tables, beds and dressers — out of wood. A cabinetmaker is a carpenter who builds custom and semi-custom wood cabinets. If you’re having a home built or remodeled, your general contractor will either provide or subcontract the carpentry work for the framing, cabinets and trim. You can hire a carpenter directly to update the trim in your home, build you a piece of custom furniture, or repair or replace your wood cabinets.

What is a general contractor?

When starting a home remodel or new construction project, you will probably hire a general contractor. A general contractor is a professional who is qualified to take a set of building plans and construct them as outlined. The general contractor may help perform the day-to-day building, or they may just hire workers and oversee all the work activities. In either case, the job of the general contractor is to see that your project gets built.

When you have a building project, ask for bids from various contractors. The bids tell you how much each will charge and what their scope of work will be. Once you have selected a bid, you sign a contract with that general contractor outlining the specifics of the project and the milestones during the project when they will receive payment installments. Once the contract is official, the general contractor will bring in their crew to begin construction. The contractor will manage the workers and subcontractors (anyone who doesn’t work directly for their company but that they need to outsource, like a marble installation pro), order all the materials, obtain work permits, and confirm that all the workers and subcontractors are completing their projects as planned. They typically handle all the payments to the workers and subcontractors, and send you invoice. For all these reasons, it’s also especially important to follow a few smart hiring practices when it comes to finding a general contractor.  If you are organized and competent to oversee construction projects, and are able to make sure everything is being built properly and meeting code, it’s possible you can be your own general contractor.  

Do carpenters build houses?

Carpenters are trained to work with wood. That means that any part of your home that is built of wood is very likely to involve a carpenter. Framing carpenters will put up the wood that makes up the bones of your home. If you’re having a wood floor installed, it may be done by a carpenter — although being a carpenter is not a requirement to install flooring. Trim, baseboards, wainscoting and any other detail work is typically installed by a finish carpenter. The wood boxes of custom cabinets will be built and installed by a carpenter.

Although all of these components in your new or remodeled home are built by carpenters who specialize in building things with wood, a general contractor typically oversees construction of the entire house. If the general contractor is also a carpenter skilled in all these areas, they may well construct your entire home. More often, the general contractor subcontracts out the various building stages to different individuals, including carpenters.

How do you choose a commercial general contractor?

A commercial contractor provides similar services as a residential general contractor but specializes in working with large-scale projects for businesses, schools, nonprofits, governments and development firms. When researching commercial general contractors, review their portfolio of work and confirm they have ample experience working in the area you need. For example, if you are building a small strip mall, ask if the contractors have experience successfully incorporating all the needed elements such as a parking lot, meeting ADA requirements, accessing the proper permits, and completing work on time.

Once you’ve identified several qualified candidates, request bids for your project and then compare the scope of work with your needs and budget. Your commercial general contractor should oversee design, permitting, construction, materials purchase, and adherence to building code and zoning regulations, as well as sticking to an agreed-upon budget and schedule. It’s important to establish clear communication with your future commercial general contractor, as this will mean a smoother process for everyone. For all these reasons, it’s also especially important to follow a few smart hiring practices when it comes to finding a general contractor.

What do general contractors charge?

If you’re doing a home remodel, building a new home or embarking on a commercial building project, you’ll hire a general contractor. A general contractor is a professional who is qualified to oversee and execute construction projects. Each construction project is unique; even two duplicate homes built on lots next door to each other could have different construction costs due to factors like different excavation costs when building the foundation. Since each project is unique, many general contractors make bids on potential construction projects. These bids can then break down to a per square foot cost that encompasses the labor of all the workers needed for the job, materials, the scope of work, and any equipment needed. Materials and finishes make a major difference in your cost per square foot. For example, choosing standard kitchen tiles at $3 per square foot will result in a lower total project cost than imported marble tiles that cost $63 per square foot. Where you live will also affect how much general contractors charge, as labor and the cost to do business can cost less in many regions than in high-cost areas like New York or San Francisco. Here are some examples of average costs general contractors typically charge in various regions:

  • Home addition in San Francisco: $250-$270 per square foot.
  • New home construction in Knoxville, Tennessee: $100-$200 per square foot.
  • Kitchen remodel in Tennessee: $40-$80 per square foot, depending on finishes.
  • Bathroom remodel in Vancouver, Washington: $110-$170 per square foot.

Be sure to check out our smart hiring practices when it comes to finding a general contractor.

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